Benny turned down a dirt lane. It wound past a pine forest which opened up into a large open field dotted with cypress trees. Spanish moss hung and blew with the breeze. The sun overhead was bright and yellow and hot. The song of crickets and birds drifted through the open windows of the rental car. Gloria waved her hand outside the window and moved it with the air flowing past. She held a pen in her other hand and bit the tip while she looked at a legal pad in her lap full of notes.
"Well, here we are." Benny said.
Bill looked up. In the center of the field was a large white home. It looked like a plantation. Roman pillars stood on the porch. They pulled into the gravel driveway which was a large circle. In the middle of the circle was a flowerbed blooming with roses in various colors. Azaleas bloomed along the porch.
Benny turned off the ignition and they stepped out of the car.
"Walk around, Bill. Touch things or something. I don't want you to go inside. You aren't FBI, and I don't want it coming out we had a civilian with us during all of our investigation. It might nullify anything Green says in there in court."
Bill nodded his head. "Sure thing. I'll just take a walk. I could use one anyway. This was a pretty long drive." He fingered the lighter in his pocket and his mouth watered at the thought of a cigarette. He knew he was probably getting addicted to the dang things again, but didn't care. He wanted one.
Benny and Gloria walked up to the porch. Bill stood outside the car and watched. The door opened and a smiling man stepped out onto the porch. Gloria lifted up her badge and said something. Bill couldn't hear the conversation. The man on the porch, the one Bill assumed must be Green stopped smiling and waved Benny and Gloria inside. Benny and Gloria followed him through the door. Before Green went inside he looked to Bill. His face was stern and unreadable.
Once the door closed again, Bill pulled out his smokes. He lit one up and sucked in a comforting draught of smoke. He looked around. He decided to explore the grounds. He started off by walking around the circle of roses in the middle of the driveway. Bees flitted from petal to petal, buzzing and pollinating. A Monarch Butterfly lifted off a yellow rose and fluttered into the sky.
"Beautiful aren't they?"
Bill turned around. A young woman smiled at him. Her hair was nearly as dark as her eyes. She was dressed in gardening clothes: white overalls, blue flannel shirt, and Crocks. Her white overalls were stained green and black with foliage and dirt. She held a dirty spade in her hand with a pink handle.
She pointed at the roses with her spade. "They were here when we moved in, but in bad shape. Overgrown. They needed cultivating and care. They had been ignored for too long. You know what happens when things get ignored? They get out of control. It takes time to make things work again, to look right, you know?"
Bill nodded his head. He took a drag from his cigarette.
She looked over her shoulder towards the door. "You got a smoke I can bum?"
Bill shrugged. "Sure. I guess so." He held the pack of cigarettes out to her.
She put her hand over his outstretched hand and shook her head. He felt a surge of thoughts and hidden desire surge through him. It was surprising in its intensity. He tried to ignore the thoughts and images assaulting him. So much lust, so much anger, too, and above it all, bitterness. Mixed in with all of it was something stronger, deeper, something like rage. "No. Not here. Franklin gets angry when I smoke. Says it's unbecoming of a preacher's wife. Everything's unbecoming of a preacher's wife."
Bill shrugged. "I wouldn't know."
She smiled. "Just follow me, okay. He can't see us if we're behind the barn if he happens to look out the window." She retracted her hand. She touched her fingertips with her thumb. "You have nice skin. Soft or something."
Bill smiled. "Thanks."
Behind the barn, she squatted down on her haunches and rested her back against a red wood wall. The paint peeled in places. She sucked on her cigarette deeply and let out clouds of smoke. She puffed it down to the butt within a couple minutes. "Ahh. Haven't had one of those in months."
Bill nodded. "I hadn't had one in years until recently myself."
She looked up to him. He wondered if it was a just a play of shadows but realized that her eyes were a strange color: a deep purple. He'd heard of purple eyes before, but never seen them in person. The effect was disorienting. She smiled. "Do you think I'm pretty?"
Bill cleared his throat. "Uhm. Sure. I guess."
She giggled. It wasn't a school-girlish giggle. It was deeper and more seductive. It was the sound of a woman playing coy. "Most guys find me pretty. They always have. I don't get to have too many guys looking at me these days. You know, I'm sometimes surprised by how much I miss it. It's good to feel desired, you know. Hey, you mind if I have another smoke?"
Bill shook his head. "Sure." He flicked a cigarette out the open end of his pack. She took it and held it to her lips. She looked up to him with her purple eyes and smiled, waiting for him to light it for her. He extracted his lighter from his pocket and lit her smoke.
She inhaled. "Ah. The only time guys see me these days is at church." She pouted. "They all think they're too good to look at me there. If their eyes come across me, they glance away."
Bill nodded his head. He lit another cigarette for himself. "Sounds like you have some serious problems." He laughed at his own joke inside his head, but was careful not to allow a smile to cross his face.
Bill touched his hand to the boards of the barn over her head. There were no stories there, or at least, nothing interesting. It was a very old barn, had held many residents, but for the last few years served as a storage space for unused antiques and excess furniture.
"Can you help me up?" The woman, Mrs. Green, reached up her hand. When they touched Bill again, the shock of her touch overwhelmed him. He fought an urge to pull away, not wanting to seem impolite. She pulled herself closer and looked into his eyes. "I don't know what it is, but you have great skin. Every time I touch you, it's like an electric current."
Bill nodded his head. She leaned in close as if to kiss him. Bill pulled away. The scent of carrion filled his nose. He bent over, suddenly sick, and began to gag.
He touched the ground and shuddered.